Hello! Welcome to maybe if you stanned, a weekly dive into K-pop releases and fan culture. This week, we’re talking about releases from TWICE (so soon!), Wengie and Minnie, BTS and Lauv, and Joji and Jackson Wang. I also get into all of the bonkers LOONA news from this week (in addition to Heejin and Chuu’s birthdays) and how fans attempt to protect idols from their own companies.
Before we truly begin though, I want to express some sentiments regarding the death of actress and former f(x) member Sulli. I didn’t know her or her work well, but it’s obvious how much of a mark she left on the community and how much she meant to her fans. To those who loved her, I am so sorry for your loss. Rather than writing about her myself, I’d like to share some of what’s been written regarding her legacy:
“How a K-pop star’s death reveals the truth about our society” — Haeryun Kang, The Washington Post
“Sudden death of a young K-pop star spurs talk of action on mental health, bullying” — Jenna Gibson, NPR
“Sulli: the woman who rebelled against the K-pop world” — Yvette Tan and Wonsang Kim, BBC News
Here’s this week’s playlist.
Joji and Jackson Wang hitting the woah in “Walking.”
What’s coming up?
Hyuna and Dawn releasing new music
Both artists formerly signed under Cube Entertainment (and expelled after it was revealed that they were dating), Hyuna and Dawn (who formerly promoted under the stage name E’Dawn as a member of Pentagon) are releasing solo music on Nov. 5. Now under P Nation, Psy’s label, the two singers are promoting independently. Nothing like a fun date on the music charts!
Pristin 2: Electric Boogaloo?
Reports emerged earlier this week that former Pristin members Eunwoo, Roa, Yuha, and Rena have resigned with a new, unnamed agency and are preparing for a new debut. The new group will also feature additional members and is working towards a November debut.
Pristin recently disbanded after only two years promoting together as a group, with their company, Pledis Entertainment, coming under fire for mismanagement and lack of promotion for the group.
TXT — The Dream Chapter: Magic
TXT has been steadily releasing teasers for upcoming album The Dream Chapter: Magic. The most recent album preview showcases the wide range of new tracks, which can broadly be categorized as synth pop. It’s a bit more mature than the group’s debut EP, The Dream Chapter: Star. Alongside the album preview, Bighit has also released more story-focused teasers for “Run Away,” presumably the title track for the album.
The Dream Chapter: Magic will be released on Oct. 21 at 6 p.m. KST.
Other upcoming releases
I wrote about these last week, but a reminder of what we’ve got coming up:
Brown Eyed Girls — Revive (Oct. 28)
Winner — Cross (Oct. 23)
Taeyeon — “Purpose” (Oct. 22)
New this week
TWICE — “Fake & True”
I recently tweeted about how I wanted TWICE to punch me in the face. That’s basically how it felt to stumble on “Fake & True” 11 hours after its release, having had zero clue that it was happening in the first place. A Japanese single, “Fake & True” is further evidence that TWICE’s recent style shift is pretty permanent. With a killer, brassy instrumental hook and dance bass, “Fake & True” is a sharp departure from the group’s previous Japanese singles, “Breakthrough” excluded. It feels like “Candy Pop,” a.k.a. the one where the entire group smashes through the fourth wall to… give a little girl some candy, was an eternity ago, but in the year and a half since then we’ve seen TWICE’s sound shift to something a bit more mature and dance pop focused.
And yes, I do remember “Happy Happy” from earlier this summer — but in all fairness it was pretty solidly overshadowed by “Breakthrough,” which was released simultaneously. Also, Happy Anniversary, TWICE!
Wengie feat. Minnie of (G)I-DLE — “Empire”
Chinese-Australian YouTuber and singer Wengie collaborated with Minnie of (G)I-DLE on “Empire,” a sultry, Korean-English hybrid track with trap influences. The song’s hook — “One day they will build empires for me, from the dirt to the sky for the world to see” — is incredibly catchy, even if the drop doesn’t pack the bass punch that I want it to. On the vocal side, Wengie and Minnie are a great combination. In particular, it’s nice to see Minnie get to break out a bit from her role in (G)I-DLE: in “Empire,” she not only raps, but gets to lean a bit more into power vocal territory.
Wengie also released fully English and fully Korean versions of the single.
Joji and Jackson Wang (feat. Swae Lee and Major Lazer) — “Walking”
Okay, this technically isn’t K-pop, but I’m justifying it by the fact that I wrote about the Rich Brian. Jackson Wang, a member of GOT7 with a solo career of his own right, actually features on a number of tracks from 88rising’s newest compilation album. “Walking” is a chill, upbeat track with a killer music video that sees a lobster monster Joji fighting robot pilot Jackson. It’s fun as hell.
Wang also features on a redux of Stephanie Poetri’s viral, Avengers-inspired hit, “I Love You 3000.”
BTS feat. Lauv — “Make it Right”
Ed Sheeran was one of the songwriters of the original version of this song that featured on BTS’ Map of the Soul: Persona EP, but now American pop vocalist Lauv lends his vocals on the song’s first verse. With a light, brassy hook that fits in with Lauv’s synth-pop sound, it seems like a logical collaboration.
The music video splices together BTS concert footage and an animated hero’s journey complete with dragon-slaying and swords. The parallel story highlights the sentimentality of the original track, which is all about working to mend a broken relationship.
So… a good number of LOONA-related things have happened within the past several days, and it’s been a lot, so I’m going to break down why #SaveLOONA was trending on Thursday and how the group ended up getting a #1 album on US iTunes seemingly out of the blue.
On Thursday, news broke that Polaris Entertainment, which owns LOONA’s label, BlockBerry Creative, was being sued for 360 million won (approximately $304,700) by global IT company Donuts. Donuts reportedly loaned Polaris 400 million won in 2017 to assist with the LOONA project with the stipulation that the members of the group would stream on their app, “My Live.” In the end, only one member of the group ended up streaming on the app (thanks Yeojin), and Polaris only returned 40 million won to Donuts. Soompi translated both companies’ statements here.
The reports sent fans into a tizzy, aggravating already high worries about LOONA’s future. The group, which debuted over a year ago in August 2018, last released new music in February 2019 with the [X X] EP. In the space between, LOONA has been making variety show appearances and posting vlogs; the group also appeared at KCON LA. That being said, rookie groups typically go hard and fast their first year following debut, and the lack of music (along with the reported departure of LOONA’s creative director Jaden Jeong) has heightened tensions within the fandom.
Essentially, everyone is worried that LOONA is going to go under, particularly after events like Pristin’s disbandment earlier this year. The fact that they were being sued for 360 million won — by a company called Donuts, nonetheless — was the straw that broke the fandom’s back. So, Orbits (LOONA fans) did what they do best, and went absolutely feral online.
The same day that Polaris got sued, Orbits not only trended #SaveLOONA to bring attention to the group’s perceived plight, but also gave LOONA their first #1 on iTunes in the United States, briefly taking the top album spot from Taylor Swift’s Lover. Keep in mind that this is eight months after [X X]’s February release with no promotion from the company itself: just a good ol’ fan push that ended up making LOONA the 3rd Korean girl group to ever get a #1 album on the platform in the United States. All in a day’s work, amirite?
Ultimately, the #1 is testament to just how fucking zealous LOONA’s fanbase is. Orbits have turned the group into a cultural phenomenon — they’re arguably one of the better known K-pop groups stateside, due in large part to the fact that their fanbase promotes them relentlessly.
#SaveLOONA also plays into the pervasive sentiment that fans are responsible for protecting groups for companies that potentially mismanage them. There’s something similar going on with Cube Entertainment’s CLC at the moment — #SaveCLC has been floating around for a while now given that the group’s music release schedule has been sparse (particularly in comparison to junior labelmate (G)I-DLE) with a distinct lack of promotion from the company for recent singles “Devil” and “Me.”
While it’s easy to chalk LOONA’s first US iTunes #1 up to Orbits freaking out, it’s a genuine achievement — one made by a fanbase that’s desperate to protect.
Thanks, and until next time,
This issue lovingly put into substack by Petrana Radulovic. Every bolded heading was done by a very careful hand.